As a virtual event planner, you want to create a conference agenda that drives attention and engagement. Your virtual event agenda shouldn’t just be a list telling people where to be at what time. A successful agenda directs the overall flow of your event, which affects the way your attendees experience the content — and the traffic your sponsors and speakers receive.
With a bit of creativity and structure, you can create an agenda that drives higher attendee engagement, session attendance, and ROI for exhibitors and sponsors. To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of seven tips for building the perfect virtual event agenda.
How to Build a Virtual Event Agenda
A well thought-out virtual strategy will be pivotal to maximizing event ROI, long after COVID is gone. Here are our top tips for preparing your event accordingly:
1. Determining goals and objectives
2. Sourcing engaging speakers
3. Discussing event details with speakers
4. Gauging attendee interest
5. Incorporating breaks
6. Deciding how to deliver content
7. Making it interactive
1. Determine Goals and Objectives
A good event planner knows what they’re trying to accomplish. Before you begin planning your next virtual event, you should identify your big-picture goals and objectives. Doing so creates a roadmap for a successful live event, setting paths you can navigate and avoiding impediments.
• Why is this event happening?
• What knowledge do you want the attendees to gain?
• How do you want to deliver this knowledge to them?
• What resources do you need (educational materials, lecturers, etc.)?
• When do you need to start preparing? How will you track progress?
• How will you determine if the event has been successful?
• How do you define and measure success?
2. Choosing Engaging Speakers
Talk with other members of your team about up-and-coming personalities inside and outside the organization, workshop leaders, and those who influence your association’s strategies and goals. Check out social media and speaker websites, and think back to events you’ve attended in the past that stuck in your mind.
Make sure to ask each candidate questions, such as if they’ve presented virtually before/if they’re comfortable presenting virtually. After identifying a list of speakers and ranking them, reach out to them as soon as possible — conference leaders and speakers are often in high demand.
Pro tip: Keep an ongoing online file with a list of speakers and contact information for quick reference. You can also use event management software to help build and manage your speakers.
3. Discuss Details With Speakers
Now that you’ve chosen your speakers, it’s time to touch base with them to gain the information you’ll need to design your agenda.
Ask your speakers how long each session usually takes. Make sure to give each of them adequate time — both attendees and speakers suffer when forced to rush. Allowing enough time for speakers ensures they stay within their time allotment, so attendees get their scheduled breaks and other speakers don’t have to cut their time short.
Discuss the following with your speakers ahead of the event:
• Time restrictions
• What their cutoff point is — and that you have to stick to it, even if they go over
• Signals they should look for when time is running out
• What engaging tools will they be using during their presentation?
4. Gauge Attendee Interest with Pre-Event Surveys
Pre-event surveys can help you discover what your attendees value in an event, so you can design the agenda to their needs. Having an active role in planning the agenda can also provide value for attendees.
Questions you can ask include:
• What are you hoping to learn from this event?
• How do you hope to use what you learn?
• What topics/speakers most interest you?
5. Breaks Are Important
Schedule 15-30 minute breaks between sessions, in addition to an hour to 1 ½ hours for lunch. This allows attendees to use the restroom, grab some coffee, and reset their brains. This also gives event organizers time to answer any questions from upcoming speakers, or attend to any issues that arise, before the next session.
During longer breaks, instruct attendees on what you want them to do, whether that be networking with peers, browsing the resource library, or visiting sponsor booths. Additionally, providing mindfulness exercises, yoga breaks, or other non-work-related activities give attendees a sense of action, but also helps them unwind and absorb more information without burning out.
Use more content in your agenda to get attendees to come together. Fill in the breaks with something like OnDemand content, poster presentations, games, and 1:1 networking.
6. Decide How to Deliver Your Message
There are a variety of session types to choose from when planning a virtual conference, including live sessions, pre-recorded sessions, and simulated live sessions (a pre-recorded session that’s not publicized as being “pre-recorded”).
As a virtual event planner, ask yourself, how can we best communicate this message?
For example, a highly visual concept that may take a presenter 5 minutes to explain could be better achieved in a 30-second video. Other session objectives may be better achieved with a live presentation, allowing for improved virtual engagement.
Keep sessions under an hour, ideally closer to 45 minutes, and allow time for Q&A. Encourage speakers to offer their contact info to those whose questions they couldn’t get to in time.
7. Make It Interactive
Weave interactive aspects into the agenda, including:
• Live chat
• Q&A sessions
Using a virtual event platform can allow these features to happen at the session level, so attendees don’t have to navigate to another window to interact.
Incorporating gamification into an event can also liven things up — after all, who doesn’t like a little friendly competition? Offer badges and leaderboards for attendance and participation. You’ll be amazed how a few games will drive attendee engagement.
Similar to an agenda for a physical event, a virtual agenda should serve as a “pocket at-a-glance,” incorporating engaging activities surrounding the education of the event, between attendees and exhibitors/sponsors, and fun activities, like yoga breaks.
Schedule breakout sessions where attendees can discuss various topics, or just network with other learners, sponsors, and vendors. Breakout sessions are a great way to give participants a reprieve from listening, while maintaining engagement.
Planning Your Next Virtual Event
After being exposed to nonstop virtual experiences due to the pandemic, many attendees now expect higher-quality content, a more engaging dynamic, and networking opportunities. Face-to-face events may have returned, but the benefits that virtual and hybrid events provide are apparent. As a result, virtual events will continue to be an essential part of your organization’s future.
Want to learn more about growing your organization through successful virtual events? Check out our blog resource.